The Devil at Large

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE DEVIL AT LARGE provides a highly interesting portrait of the life and works of Henry Miller, one of the most controversial authors of the twentieth century. Jong begins by pointing out that Miller has been roundly condemned by many literary critics of two generations. In his own time, Miller was renounced as a pornographer for his graphic depictions of sexual acts and his use of language then considered obscene. In our own time, when standards have become much less strict regarding the depiction of sex and the use of strong language, Miller is again being condemned, especially by feminist critics, this time as sexist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic.

While in some ways a typical biography, recounting Miller’s childhood and youth, his first attempts at writing and his ultimate success, there is also a great deal of literary criticism here. Surprisingly Jong, an avowed feminist, defends Miller unsparingly. Her basic thesis is that this author was not advocating the exploitation of women but rather reporting reality as he saw it. Although she does consider that Miller was a sexist, she does not condemn him for this, but rather praises him for openly admitting his feelings and dealing with them.

Miller, Jong suggests, contributed more to the rise of sexual equality and sexual liberation than have most feminists, because he told the truth and was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Jong also offers a severe indictment of censorship, which she, like Miller, has had to struggle against.